A FILE 23 HOLIDAY STORY by Brian Roper

Posted: January 21, 2007 in The Roper Files

WEDNESDAY DEC 20- Today is the first day of a temporary two-week life of my own. Sort of. I’ve scrimped and saved and have just enough vacation time left to have two glorious wonderful weeks of no work. I still have to go back out there later this morning and get my final paycheck of the year, but that’s a small price to pay.

I’m looking forwards to two weeks of not having to work non-stop on my feet for ten hours a day while being forced to watch my bosses’  boot-licking toadies and lackeys stand around with their hands in their pockets and talk all day long.  Think that’s funny? 

I work for a defense-related company.  YOUR tax dollars subsidize this. 

But I digress…Two weeks of not being forced to listen to that gawdawful North Texas radio for ten sanity-challenging hours a day.

Two weeks to practice my guitar with fingers that aren’t sliced, diced and shredded like so much deli meat by razor-sharp sheet metal. 

Two weeks of eating whatever I want to eat, whenever I want instead of a cold-cut sandwich and midget bag of Fritos every day at 11:30.

Two weeks of not having to remember to set an alarm before I go to bed.

Two weeks of getting out of bed whenever I wake up, instead of being rudely jarred  awake by an alarm clock at 4am sharp. And maybe even break my current writers’ block and get some writing done for File23, who knows? 

Still there are things I don’t feel like doing that have to be done. Laundry and housework don’t take holidays. And I still haven’t bought one Christmas present. I feel like a dick; it’s not even a matter of money, I simply don’t have a clue what to buy anyone. Such a helpless feeling only serves to accelerate my holiday stress and anxiety. My parents are the most difficult of all to shop for. Four days before Christmas Eve and I still haven’t pried my ass out of the chair and started shopping. Ugh! It’s like one of those bad dreams where someone’s chasing you and you can’t move fast enough to get away from them. Cant…go…near…mall… Especially when all the main roads to the mall become some sort of stupidity magnet for the duration of the holidays. The ordeal of shopping pales in comparison to attempting to drive  through 15 mph traffic, one car after another driven by some inattentive dipshit yakking on a cellphone, the bane of modern man.Besides, it’s cold and raining outside. The kitchen smells of that fresh pot of Kona bean brewing just a few feet away and the catchy theme song to Green Acres is blaring from my 27-inch Panasonic in the living room; do I need any other reasons to stay home?THURSDAY DEC 21st…12 NOON.. Managed to take the plunge and get a little shopping done yesterday. The day’s half over and I haven’t done shit today. Only bought myself one new DVD yesterday as well as a used one. Gotta get back out there today but I don’t wanna. So much easier to sit here and drink coffee.After raining all morning, the phone went screwy yesterday. Tried to call someone about 5pm; no dial tone, only static. Go to the phone companys’ Web site; get smart-ass replies like: ” our test indicate the problem to be with your equipment.” Then my Net access (which is DSL and works off of >DUH!< the phone wire) goes out. Game over. Get mad, retreat to the safety and comfort of my bed. Get up this morning, there’s a dial tone but the phone still sounds like a scratchy record. Call two people; get two answering machines. No one returns my calls. Get back on the Internet and spend all morning on my favorite time-killer, YouTube.

This isn’t any good; I should be getting something accomplished. Don’t wanna go shopping; humbug!

5pm…Got a little shopping done but not finished; at least I started. Managed to touch base with my brother and made sure our Mom didn’t wind up with two new crockpots.

Two days left…yikes! Need to get something else for Mom and Dad; they’re the toughest challenge every year. I am so thankful I didn’t wait until Christmas Eve to start shopping this year, which is both my usual Christmas tradition and New Years Eve resolution not to repeat.

The silly part of this is I don’t really have to buy a lot of stuff. I’ve basically got one brother, his wife and my parents as my immediate family. Most of my friends and I don’t exchange gifts, and if we do we keep it down-to-earth, nothing extravagant. I usually spend about the equivalent of a one-week paycheck on my family, which I look at as some sort of unwritten tithe. But other than that it’s tough to buy real genuine presents for my family; I’m going to take the same cop-out as the rest of America and dole out a popourri of gift certificates and gift cards. According to the news on TV, I’m not alone. So far this season it’s been a record sales year for gift cards. Appparently the rest of the countrys’ families are as dysfunctional as my own.

But gift cards are so damn convenient. I was standing in front of a huge display at the grocery store the other night and checking out the variety of cards they had for sale.

Home Depot, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, etc. You could spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars in mere minutes, but you wouldn’t actually have to drive to any of these places. And this time of year, that’s the REAL beauty of gift cards. Maybe that light bulb will come on between now and tomorrow and I can get the ordeal of shopping finally over with. Drive a stake through the heart of this matter once and for all.

FRIDAY/ SATURDAY DEC 22-23rd…After much driving it’s over. Wasn’t nearly as bad I thought. Got everything done. Laundry, shopping, even gave my apartment a much-needed cleaning. I can’t believe it; it’s all done. Who’d of thought it was possible? Time to relax; got a Christmas party to go attend tonight.

SUNDAY DEC 24 CHRISTMAS EVE…Depressing thought: I’ve grown accustomed to being lonely. I’m used to being depressed; it’s all a permanent part of my landscape now. During those rare moments when it temporarily subsides, I’m even more confused and disoriented than usual without it. If this is normal during the holidays, then I’m getting really tired of being normal. I strongly suspect this is part of the reason getting anything done is such a struggle lately. It’s all I can do to get out of bed. I drag my feet with no shame; I just KNOW life’s not going to get any better. It never has. You might think this would at least be the nucleus of some kind of enlightening thought; a moment of clarity that would explain the purpose of all this but I’m still waiting on that one.

My friends Baird and Susannah Blanton are in from Austin. I’m going to ride back with them when they leave and spend next weekend down there. Getting out of Fort Worth for a few days will either help or drive me further over the edge. I like Austin though; it’s a college town. Lots of pretty co-eds; I always feel twenty years younger when I’m there. Sitting in front of a Starbucks sipping on one of their over-priced drinks and looking at young girls has got to be better for me than spending another week in dreary Fort Worth. Now I can’t wait to for Christmas to be over.

Got to buck up and go face the family tonight for dinner and then get up early and go do it again in the morning. There’s a popular t-shirt/ bumper sticker in Austin that says “KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD” After Christmas with my family, I’m going to need a big ole heapin’ helpin’ of weird. OK, Austin. Here I come. Bring on the weird. I can take it.

I need it; I want it. And if you don’t deliver, coming back to Fort Worth will be even more anti-climatic than ever.

MONDAY CHRISTMAS DEC 25…Get up, fix coffee. Go eat breakfast with the parents, my brother and his wife. We open presents. Mission accomplished; everyone likes their gifts. My brother has out-spent me by about twenty or thirty bucks. That’s OK; I’ll make up for it next year.

Go home, turn on the TV; nothing worth watching on. Never mind; I’ve got FAMILY GUY VOLUME FOUR to watch. Fall asleep on couch. Sleep. Wonderful sleep.

TUESDAY DEC 26….Woke up early. The silence is deafening. No one driving around. Gotta get up; gotta get ready though. I’m leaving town in a couple of days. There’s things to do, places to go. But there’s also something to be said for sitting around drinking coffee all morning as well. Besides, the sun’s not even up yet and it’s about two degrees above freezing. Fresh kona bean and Beverly Hillibillies reruns are a match made in couch-potato heaven.

Spent the day practicing my guitar until Baird and Shelby (his dog) show up. We dine at Benitos and then later spend the rest of the evening watching old videotapes of cartoons, Three Stooges and obscure sitcoms as Shelby sleeps curled up on the floor nearby.

WEDNESDAY DEC 27…Paid two bills, have contracted someone to feed my ever-growing family of cats, getting ready to leave Fort Worth. Loose ends must be taken care of; no detail will be overlooked. Haven’t left town in three months and as the departure time approaches it’s all starting to get real to me now. To heck with this dreadful year; I’m ready to close it out once and for all with a trip to Austin.

THURSDAY DEC 28…Baird and Susannah drop by at noon sharp with Shelby in tow and the four of us are on I-35, Austin-bound. The trip itself is un-eventful. We stop in Waco for sandwiches and coffee. The traffic in Georgetown north of Austin moves at the usual snails’ pace. Four hours later, we arrive.

First stop is a guitar shop where Baird picks up a shiny new Fender acoustic-electric, having become determined at the age of 40-something to learn to play an instrument. Then we stop for a catfish dinner. Afterwards, Baird and I sit up for hours as I attempt to teach him a few rudimentary chords. We do nothing else; both of us are tired and want to crash early.

FRIDAY DEC 29…We get up early and take the dog for a much-needed walk just as it starts to sprinkle a light rain. Just as we return to the house the sky opens up and it really begins to pour. Susannah tells us the TV news is flashing a tornado alert until 7pm that evening. Baird and I watch DVDs, read books and comics followed by more guitar lessons. I successfully show him 3 or 4 basic chords. The sky starts to turn a really ugly grey/brown color I know all too well; tornados in December? Up on the second floor of Baird and Susannahs’ house the wind can really be heard howling away outside. They lived in Los Angeles for fourteen years; welcome back to Texas, y’all.

Later that evening the rain dies down and we are joined by two of their LA friends who are in Austin for the holidays. The five of us go to The Elephant Room. Usually they have live jazz; tonight it’s a Latin band with a really fast Al Dimeola-ish guitarist. Not bad, but we were ready for some live jazz. The Elephant Room has to be the one and only bar in Austin that doesn’t have a huge mural of Stevie Ray Vaughn on the wall.

Two women nearby dance to the music, then begin to hug and kiss quickly stealing the show from the band and much to the audiences’ apparent approval. Best $5 show I’ve seen in a while; I’ll have to check this place out again next time I’m in town.

SATURDAY DEC 30…Wake up to bright sun; the rain has blown over. Baird and I are put to work cleaning up the back yard for the New Years Eve party on Sunday.

Later that afternoon the three of us climb into the car and go to visit our friend Mack White (see www.mackwhite.com)  who is cooking his red-hot Bison Bill Chili. He has invited many good people and we spend a delightful afternoon schmoozing, eating, drinking etc. This is the way to spend a holiday; it’s wonderful spending time with real people who don’t start conversations with “How ’bout them Cowboys/ Mavericks?” Right now I’m not missing Fort Worth one little bit. True quality time, indeed.

Later that evening we visit Cheapo Discs where Baird purchases several DVDs and I get two multi-disc boxes of Thelonious Monk CD’s. We visit busy Sixth Street, which reminds me way too much of the Deep Ellum entertainment district in Dallas. One noisy, smoky look-alike bar after another. Crowded, hard-to-navigate sidewalks full of weaving drunks. Too many people panhandling us if we make eye contact with them. This gets old quick and we retreat back to the truck and go to the Magnolia Cafe

(whose neon sign says: “Sorry. We’re open.” ) for a late-night stack of buttermilk pancakes. Much better.

It’s cold this night. We try to crash early; tomorrow is New Years Eve. I lay in bed and realize I’ve been drinking way too much coffee. Gotta sleep; we’re going to be up late on New Years Eve. In the library across the hall Bairds cell phone begins chiming a loud two-note tone every few minutes as its battery slowly dies. It’s freezing so I don’t want to get out of bed; how long could it possibly take to lose enough juice to shut up? All night long it turns out; I’m tossing and turning as the sun comes up. Not good.

SUNDAY DEC 31.. I get up and walk down the street to a nearby Mexican bakery and purchase a dozen fresh-baked flour tortillas. Mack and his gracious wife Diane sent an extra plastic bag full of chili with us yesterday as we left; this is mixed with scrambled eggs and consumed on the pre-mentioned tortillas .Around 11am or so Baird and I visit Austin Books. Since the one “family-store” comic shop left in Fort Worth SUCKS big-time I stock up on Angry Youth and American Splendor comics, titles the high-falootin’ store in Fort Worth refuses to sell. I know I’m in for a long boring ride on Amtrak Monday morning, so new reading material is a must.

Around sundown the house begins to fill with guests. Baird and Susannah have invited friends over for food and drinks but the neighbors on both sides of them are having parties as well. Everyone wanders from house to house; “hey-how-ya-doin?” back and forth. No one steals or breaks anything; only in Austin. ( the backyard will remain remarkably spotless the next morning aside from an odd beer-cap here and there.)

Around ten or eleven, the bulk of Baird and Susannahs’ guests disperse off to some club for their $40 bottle of Andre and that paper hat.

I’ve been “on-the-wagon” for years and just flat refuse to make a big deal out of New Years’ anymore. It’s just another damn year to me.

Two friends remain; once again I’m the fifth wheel. Just before midnight the five of us walk down the street to watch fireworks. An impressive display is launched from a barge in the middle of the river for at least a good fifteen minutes or so to an seemingly non-existent crowd. It’s freezing; I didn’t bring a heavy coat and am shivering and shaking from the cold. At this point I am Walking Dead; I can feel my lack of sleep the night before catching up with me fast. We walk back to the house where I break a sixteen-year streak of not drinking and down two delicious glasses of Dom Perignon toasting in the new year.

Hours later I wake up fully dressed on the bed with the light on; not something I ordinarily do. Happy New Year to me! Whee!

MONDAY JANUARY lst…Wake up a second time with bright sunlight streaming in the window. Oh shit, what time is it? I find a clock and discover to my horror I have just mere minutes to re-pack my back-pack and hurriedly down a couple of cups of coffee. Baird gets up and we pile in his truck and then detour by the first place we see open ( Torchys Tacos) where I quickly grab an (excellent) breakfast burrito and then we’re off to the nearby Amtrak station to catch the 9:30am train back to Cowville.

And the Christmas miracles just won’t stop, the train is ONLY a half-hour late! I might even get back to Fort Worth before sundown, who knows? God bless us everyone!

Everyone on the train looks seriously hung-over, a Joe Coleman painting come to life. A few hyper-active kids aside, most everybody quietly sleeps. I read as the train lurches down the tracks. Then I spend time looking out the window and watch as the scenery blurs past; it’s semi-hypnotic as the barren Central Texas landscape flickers in the glass. Other than the usual half dozen or so times we’re delayed by “why-bother?” whistle stops like McGregor and Taylor, the trip back is uneventful.

Get back 4 1/2 hours later. Downtown Fort Worth is deserted; it’s just me and a tiny handful of angry-looking homeless on the streets. The mailbox is full of unwanted bills. Otherwise all is calm and well at the File23 compound. Only 345 spam e-mails in my Inbox? Do the spammers take holidays? I turn on the cable tv and sit in my big Archie Bunker chair, where I’m quickly joined by my oldest cat who curls up in my lap and purrs, happy to see me.

If nothing else, it will be nice to sleep in my own comfortable bed tonight. But I know what’s going to happen next…

TUESDAY JANUARY 2nd…4am…The unwelcome sound of my alarm clock going off pre-dawn reminds me it’s back-to-reality time. Haven’t been to work in two weeks. After two weeks of doing whatever I want, will I be able to pull this off? Drag my ass out of bed, fix that damn sandwich and then it’s off to that most-dreaded of destinations. When I walk in, the radios are all stilled tuned to KSUX, which is playing the same shit I haven’t missed hearing one little bit for two weeks. If anyone asks me if I’m glad to be back I swear I’ll punch them into next week…I need some more time off, among many, many other things.

OK, so Austin wasn’t so “weird”; it’s still a little different and I’ll settle for that. I’m not just stuck in a rut; I LIVE in a rut.


January 2007


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